Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Church Logos

Back in December, I began a blog theme called Airport Chapels. Since then, I've been trying to visit as many of them as my journeys have made possible. The Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT) is a place I used to know very well from a commuter marriage from Clemson. But only during a recent connecting flight did I note the airport's multiple chapels . In addition to a permanent room and an ephemeral Sunday space, I found the first graphic sign for chapel. The icon depicts an abstract figure in a kneeling pose. I took a picture of the illuminated airport directory (above), but you can also see it on the official airport website. Charlotte's airport chapel is located just outside the terminal. At the risk of missing my connecting flight, I exited the terminal and visited the sacred space.

The chapel door bears a circular stained glass window depicting an appropriately jet-setting icon, the globe (left). Longitudes and latitudes divide the earth into green, blue, yellow and clear zones, while the logo kneels opaquely in front, genuflecting on Antarctica with its head rising from the equator. The image is too rich for words, crossing multiple planes of signification, from the Platonic immateriality of
logos and the visual immateriality of glass to the capitalist abstraction of the logo and its legalistic immediacy. Was this logo copyright-ed?

Chapel logos are not limited to the heterotopia
(Foucault) of airports . My good friend Kat (aka Little Ethiopia[n]) is all about church shops and church logos, and I thank her for introducing me to the genre. Kat's and the Esquire's infinite hospitality in Los Angeles included driving me to all the architectural monuments my heart desired.

At the top of my list was Rafael Moneo's celebrated Catholic Cathedral (of our Lady of the Angels) completed in 2002. We marveled at the structure's monumental ingenuity, the historical materiality unique to Moneo, the new Catholic art, the speaker funnels, the tapestry, Moses the Ethiopian (of course), and then we visited the church shop. We swung open a glass door (left) with the shop's hours and an iconic distillation of the building, literally mirroring the solid volumes across the open space.

Another Los Angeles church with its own shop and logo is the Greek Orthodox Cathedral, Saint Sophia completed in 1952. I've been studying this building in its own right as a pious donation of Charles and Spyros Skouras, the founders of Fox Studios in Hollywood. Spyros Skouras, moreover, was a trustee of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens and the producer of a 1947 documentary for the School. In the collection of essays I have just edited, The Archaeology of Xenitia, Natalia Vogeikoff-Brogan has written on the relationship between the Greek-American community (the omogeneia) and the School. The 1947 documentary, Triumph over Time, that Vogeikoff-Brogan discovered has been remastered as a DVD and published along with Vogeikoff-Brogan's insightful commentary.

My own contribution to
The Archaeology of Xenitia was an essay on the Orthodox Cathedral of Philadelphia (a church without a logo). The research on Saint George has morphed into another project, a survey of Greek-American architecture, a collaboration with Vasilis Marinis at Queens College. LA's Saint Sophia is a hybrid of Hispanic and Orthodox motifs, appropriate for its locale. The commemorated craftsmen for the building seem to have been Latin American, but according to oral history, they were all brought from Greece. But that could be the subject of another posting altogether.

Documenting chapel logos throughout the U.S. illustrates a well-studied phenomenon, the intrusion of corporate culture into religious space. Most research, however, has focused on the phenomena of televangelism and megachurches. The more modest evidence from Charlotte's chapel, from the Cathedral of our Lady of the Angels and from Saint Sophia point attention to different processes of image-making and meaning.

1 comment:

Hodge said...

The CLT chapel's logo is actually that of the International Association of Civil Aviation Chaplains (see IACAC.)

Airport chapels have long fascinated me. I make a point of visiting them whenever I have the opportunity to travel to an airport that has a chapel. Very often they are, as with Detroit's, hidden away in less-visited parts of the airport.

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Kostis Kourelis

Philadelphia, PA, United States